Military council rents out land seized from Mandalay Region residents for industrial project

The military council has issued grants to investors for hundreds of acres of real estate taken from impoverished rural communities in Ngazun Township, Mandalay Region several years ago. 

Authorities confiscated the land between 2012 and 2017, offering compensation significantly lower than the market price, in order to develop the Myotha Industrial Park project on the Ayeyarwady River southwest of Mandalay. 

The military has now allotted 400 acres of the land to investors at a rental rate of 150,000 kyat ($70) per acre per year. The recipients’ land grant certificates are valid for 10 to 30 years, according to a Myanmar Gazette issue published on March 10.

When the project began, farmers living on the desired land were threatened with legal action and intimidated into accepting inadequate reimbursements for their property and crop losses, according to the information officer for the People’s Defence Force (PDF) in Ngazun Township.

In a report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) released at the time, the area reserved for the industrial park was dubbed the “Land of Sorrow” due to the hardships inflicted on people whose property was seized.  

In total, more than 10,000 acres were ultimately acquired for the industrial park. More than 1,000 families living in 14 villages lost their lands—the main source of their livelihoods—to the development project, according to the report. 

The Thein Sein government, which initiated the Myotha Industrial Park project in 2012, granted management rights to the Mandalay Myotha Industrial Development (MMID) company.

MMID chairman Aung Win Khaing previously served as chair of Mandalay Region’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry under the Than Shwe military regime, from which the Thein Sein government took over in 2011.

According to an MMID employee who spoke with Myanmar Now on March 15, MMID has been applying for land grants on behalf of investors and has managed the project as a joint venture with Mandalay’s regional government, which has been controlled by the military council since the February 2021 coup. 

“Land grants have been issued for over 400 out of some 11,000 acres of land in the Myotha Industrial Park area. Some buyers have purchased lands from us, and we apply for grants on behalf of them. Then, we pick up the grants at the land registry office,” she said.

Manufacturing companies from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand, and the United States have invested in the Myotha Industrial Park project. The project had 21 operational factories and 23 workshops under construction by the end of March 2021, according to MMID’s latest annual report, released last year. 

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing used Ayeyarwady’s Semeikhon Port—situated within the Myotha project industrial area—to transport giant marble blocks from Mandalay’s Madaya Township to Naypyitaw to be used in creating the world’s largest Buddha statue. 

Min Aung Hlaing also visited the Myotha project area early last year, and MMID chair Aung Win Khaing confirmed the company was adhering to the coup leader’s instructions, according to MMID’s annual report.

Despite this publicity for the project and the continuing inflow of investments, chiefly from Chinese entrepreneurs, business progress has been slower since the coup, according to the Ngazun Township PDF information officer. 

At the same time, the circumstances of the people forced off their lands for the project are now largely forgotten. 

“People cannot enter the industrial zone area since the coup, and villagers are afraid because the military council has deployed many troops to secure the area. There were continuous protests in the area before, but we don’t hear any protests or demands now,” the Ngazun PDF information officer said.

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